Why Naked Yoga is a Thing (Hint: It's Not About Sex)
In yogic teaching, samskaras are often described as “impressions on the mind.” They are generally things we believe to be true, but that may or may not be. They are also often unconscious and subtle, even if they might have huge impacts on our experience of daily life. When our samskaras are about our own bodies, they can have profoundly negative effects.
In some ways, you can think of a samskara as a habit. It is much more than that. However, it is a kind of habit. It stems from the idea that each thought we have or behavior we do leaves an “imprint” on our minds. Once an impression is made by that thought or behavior, it becomes easier and more automatic to repeat it later on. The more often it is repeated, the more ingrained it becomes. Think of samskaras as thought and behavior habits, or established neural pathways, scientifically speaking. Think of them as a form of bias or prejudice. Think of them as impressions on your mind, footprints that turn into trails through your consciousness when you walk them regularly. When your conscious mind is not being deliberately focused or directed, it naturally stays on the trails. Those trails through your consciousness, that your mind naturally follows when you are not intentionally directing its focus (which, frankly, most of us rarely do) are samskaras.
Said more simply, samskaras run your life, unless you intentionally focus your mind in another direction and intentionally change them.
At least, that is my simplified, westernized explanation of what they are.
Samskaras and Our Bodies
Because we live in a society where bodies are generally treated as shameful, we take in a fairly constant stream of mental impressions, foot prints on our psyche, that tell us our bodies are bad, wrong and shameful; that they must be covered up. Add to that the fact that the bodies we tend to see (because most everyone is covering up all the time) are those presented to us in film and other media, that have often been made-up (with makeup), photoshopped and pre-screened to present “perfect” bodies that do not represent how any of us look, and it is easy to see that we are continually fed a misleading message that suggests “I’m too fat,” “I’m not tan enough,” “My legs are too short,” “My [blank] is not big enough,” or, maybe it’s too big, or too thin or… fill in the rest…it’s a never ending list.
So severe is the samskara of body shame in our culture that we needed to be very careful of the image we used for this post, out of fear that simply showing human bodies would get us banned from this blogging platform. That fact alone proves the well-trod path of body shame present in the collective psyche of modern society.
It Hasn’t Always Been This Way
When the British colonized India, their soldiers wrote about the “strange natives” that would “sit, stand and lay about in strange postures”… “without clothing.” They were describing the practice of nagna or naked yoga, which was often coed and practiced very publicly in India before the British colonization.
Back then, bodies were blessed and divine, seen as the vessels that carried our consciousness through our lives. The practice of nagna yoga celebrated that and true to yogic tradition did so by experiencing and celebrating the body as it actually is, instead of some made-up fantasy of what it “should” be. Bodies did not need to have a certain shape, color or texture to be beautiful and divine. They just naturally were.
It’s hard to fully honor our divine bodies while hiding them or covering them up, or by trying to enhance them with clothing or makeup that makes them look different.
Nagna Yoga Today
A small number of yogic sects still practice nagna yoga in India. Most of them are exclusive to male yogis, and are often associated with a commitment to a lifelong spiritual path that includes celibacy. In the West, however, naked yoga classes are becoming all the rage for men and women, sometimes in coed classes, but are also often segregated by gender. A simple Google search will yield countless stories of people taking their first naked yoga class, which isn’t really surprising. What is surprising to some people, however, is how similar the experiences are and the profound impact they can have for those willing to take the risk of trying it.
This writer said it like this:
I found the actual act of yoga while naked to be pretty freeing. I hate fiddling with my shorts, and having to adjust myself, and I hate fixing my shirt when it gets soaked in sweat. When I first started yoga in college, the studio I attended let men take off their shirts. I’ve always missed those days. But now, being naked, there was nothing else to focus on except the pose itself.
This one wrote:
I've never felt quite so in tune with how my body was working. It really was freeing.
In most of them, there is a theme of fuller body awareness; a sense of freedom and liberation. For some, their first naked yoga experience brings a life changing shift in how they feel in their body, as this writer described was the case for her. That’s because doing yoga naked in a room full of other naked people helps them to let go of body shame in a way that is healthy and constructive and fun. It is a way of stepping way outside of the well-trod paths that their samskaras have left in their minds while creating new, healthier ones.
In a typical naked yoga class, there is a diversity of body sizes, shapes and colors. All are honored equally. All are seen as divine. Many students who practice naked yoga report feeling a significantly greater appreciation for more body types, and, particularly their own.
There is something profoundly beautiful about being in your most pure and vulnerable state and being accepted and honored by those around you. That is the experience of naked yoga. It is a way of intentionally creating a new set of ideas and thoughts about our own bodies that is profoundly simple yet very powerful.
If the thought of doing naked yoga with a group of other people makes you feel a little anxious or nervous, it might be because of negative samskaras that would be helpful to think of changing.
Finding a Naked Yoga Class
When searching for naked yoga classes, don’t be turned away by the number of videos you may find featuring very fit and firm naked men and women performing in what can only be described as soft porn. That’s not really how most naked yoga classes look or work. Most instructors in most classes go out of their way to ensure the environment is safe, supportive and not sexualized. Most naked yoga classes are like any other yoga class, with the exception of the clothing. Any nervousness about nakedness or sexuality disappears quickly once the yoga starts and the body and breath begin to be challenged. That being said, there are classes that incorporate tantric yoga techniques and partner yoga to intentionally build sexual energy.
Know your comfort level with this and search for a class that fits with your comfort level. Don’t be afraid to ask the instructor before hand.